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When an individual suffers from injuries at the hands of others, he/she may find himself/herself in the middle of a civil law suit. After hearing the evidence, and finding in favor of the injured individual, the jury or judge may award damages to the injured individual. Damages are often categorized as compensatory damages or punitive damages. Generally, if both types of damages are awarded, they are awarded at the same time; however, they served two different purposes. For the most part, compensatory damages are awarded to cover actual damages suffered by the injured person, such as lost wages, medical expenses, etc. In contrast, punitive damages are intended to serve as a deterrent, in other words, serving as a message to the defendant to refrain from behaving in this manner in the future.
Recently, efforts have been made to limit available punitive damages. For example, courts are being called upon to increase judicial scrutiny of large awards and several states have implemented tort limitation measures. Some states prohibit punitive damages for all civil actions, while others allow for punitive damages in certain cases, such as medical malpractice. Even with on-going reform measures, juries and courts are still willing to impose punitive damages in especially egregious situations. Because the laws vary from state-to-state, it is recommended that anyone seeking punitive damages conduct a thorough review of the applicable law in his/her specific jurisdiction.
Even in jurisdictions allowing punitive damages, states vary in what standard of proof must be used by a jury in determining if punitive damages are warranted. Most states require the plaintiff to persuade the jury by clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages are warranted. Other states, however, use the preponderance of the evidence standard, which generally means that the defendant acted in a manner where awarding of punitive damages is reasonable, even if the facts barely “tip the scale” in that direction. One state, Colorado, requires plaintiffs to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s conduct warrants punitive damages.
In addition to meeting the required burden of proof, in order to receive punitive damages, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct met an additional standard regarding severity. States vary in this matter as well, and as such, the standard should be carefully researched by any person seeking to file a claim. For example, some of the language used to describe this severity standard include, but is not limited to, conduct by the defendant that is reckless; fraudulent; reprehensible; intentional; conducted with reckless indifference to others; malicious; oppressive and grossly negligent conduct; or willful and wanton conduct.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to another person’s negligence or wrongful conduct, please contact us. We will help you find a personal injury attorney near you who can help you recover the financial compensation to which you are entitled.